It’s Not Just about Food: Food Delivery and Environment
By admin October 16, 2018

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If you’ve ever ordered a meal kit from Blue Apron or Hello Fresh, you’ve probably had this experience: A large cardboard box shows up on a delivery truck from one of the company’s few distribution centers around the country, filled with ice packs and insulation, and many, many small plastic packages of food. It’s the same for Chinese consumers. In the first half of 2018, China’s three biggest online food delivery platforms – Meituan, Ele Me and Baidu Takeout – made 33.9 million deliveries on average every day. A typical order includes two or three plastic boxes, carried in one or two plastic bags; with an assortment of disposable chopsticks, plastic spoons, and plastic soup containers.

The convenience of food delivery comes at a cost. An estimated 20 million pairs of disposable chopsticks are used every day in China. Boxes used in food deliveries are usually made of plastics such as polypropylene and polystyrene, or paper and aluminum foil. The plastic containers aren’t biodegradable, yet in Beijing, they are used in 70% of deliveries. These cheap and durable packaging materials go on to exist in our landfills, the ocean and are even consumed by the animals we eat. Delivery trucks also contribute substantially to the burden of fine particulate matter, as shown by a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Delaware. The problem is getting worse. There is no signal that the demand for food delivery, a huge time saver, is to decline, given the largest group of among all consumers is the busy youth work in CBD areas of cities. Neither do restaurants have enough incentives to replace plastics packaging with other sustainable materials since they are more expensive.

More actions are being taken to put pressure on the profit-oriented private sector to consider sustainability in everyday decision making. In 2017, the three food delivery tycoons in China were sued by an environmental organization for the harmful effects of their packaging. Some industry associations in the U.S is getting down to monitoring the effects of leading companies’ services on the environment and publishing the data online.

With an increased concern about the environmental dangers of plastics, more and more companies are connecting consumers with sustainable options or innovating their supply chain to alleviate the severity of the problem. As of late 2017 organic veg box delivery company Riverford ditched the plastic nets they had been using to pack up onions, citrus fruits, and sprouts in favor of this compostable alternative made from beech tree pulp. On the platform of, users in Shanghai have been offered the “no utensils” option already. Big companies like Amazon are already exploring ways to deliver packages with drones instead of trucks and the effectiveness in saving emissions has been proved in researches. By contrast, recycling boxes have not been widely adopted by food-delivery companies, as packages are created in small quantities over a wide area, making it difficult to collect efficiently. In 2013, 80 million tons of plastic foam waste was generated in the United States, yet less than 5,000 tons of this material was recycled. More importantly, consumers are not obliged to follow the complicated procedures of recycling their packages.

Some suggest that the government should be actively engaged in solving the problem. Currently, many countries lack a specific law that would drive restaurants for adopting more eco-friendly policies when they’re rushing orders out the door. To raise consumers’ awareness of this issue, the cooperation between brands and government agencies in education is expected to make greater impacts. When consumers are willing to back a more environment-friendly approach, the new equilibrium will lead the supply side to the same direction.


Read More:

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Chinese Food-Delivery Companies’ Green Initiatives Fizzle Out

A Guide to the Greenest Meal Delivery Kits Out There

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Good Uncle Path Sustainability Companies Follow

China Promises Restrictions on Plastic Waste

10 Sustainable and Stylish Food and Drink Packaging Innovations

Food Delivery Services Sued Causing Environment Damage

Is Drone Delivery Good for Environment?

Online Grocery Shopping: Easy for You, Maybe Not for the Earth

Environmental Impact of Amazon Prime


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